Thursday, March 29, 2007

Yeah! Balkan Ceilidh!

In Banchory, we saw Jani (Janos) Lang & the Balkan Ceilidh band! I'm all about multicultural fusion music, and this was its acme. The band features Jani on fiddle (Irish, Balkan, Gypsy, Scandinavian, and Scottish styles). I can't find a website for the Balkan Ceilidh, but I did find a sample of one of Jani's songs that they played at the concert: The Wind that Shakes the Paprika. Jani is a funny guy as well as a fiddle genius, and his song introductions and descriptions were the other best part of the show.

Here's the site of his other Hungarian Anglo-Irish band, Fianna (where I got the audio sample, and where more of the same await you), and here's a brief profile of Jani.

Bonus: Here's a whole Fianna song: Da snock oda smaalie. Not very Balkan, though.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Banchory Weekend

Heather has recently posted a Flickr set from our weekend up in Banchory (Aberdeenshire), where we stayed with our friend Michaela and her parents. Highlights of the weekend included: cow chasing, ruined castles, Balkan Ceilidh music, good fish, and warm butteries.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Newspaper headline nouns superfluity confusion!

Here is a headline from the BBC news today:

Balloon crash safety changes call

When I read a sentence, I usually look for the various parts of it that help me decipher its meaning. In English, we usually have at least one noun and one verb per sentence. In the sentence 'the cat fell,' for example, you have a clear ACTOR, the cat, and something that the cat did, which is fall.

It is an established tradition for newspaper headlines to include only the parts of a thought necessary to get the meaning across while still sounding URGENT. The BBC, whose ability to sound URGENT is always clearly evident, has nevertheless been doing a pretty terrible job lately at the whole 'making sense' bit. Why is this?

Newspaper headlines like

Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor

though not what you would call a complete sentence, make the actors and actions contained within the articles' text evident through inclusion of a standard complement of subjects, verbs, and objects, almost always in that order. This is how we communicate in English; we can figure out that the word 'bomb' should be taken as a verb because it occurs where we expect it to. The BBC's headlines, though, have been increasingly consisting of lists of nouns with no verbs at all.

Even in this dire situation, sense can usually be made of the headlines. A mild case, like

Obese mothers-to-be 'a burden'

includes helpful adjectives, articles, and punctuation (imagine the BBC copy editor's panic upon reading Obese mothers to be a burden!), and sticks mostly to nouns that are lexically unambiguous (can't be used as verbs). Slightly murkier, but still intelligible, is the recent headline

Hunt for clues to Indonesia crash

which contains two nouns that, without context, could function as verbs. Is the BBC commanding us to hunt? Does the hunt crash? What are the clues to Indonesia? But we are thinking, reasoning beings, after all, and surely some verbosity must be sacrificed for URGENCY and quickness of reporting.

Read today's example again, though.

Balloon crash safety changes call

There is only one noun in this whole headline that cannot be construed as a verb ('safety'). When you read a sentence expecting at least one verb, as most readers of English tend to do, such a buffet of potential action words can be staggering. Even more so when none of these 'verbs' makes the headline understandable. Not until the bewildered reader consults the text of the article (which is disappointingly dull compared to the Dadaistic headline) does it emerge that the BBC is hammering us over the head with one big, unwieldy compound noun with its head at the very end (call). What they are trying to tell us is that there has been a call for changes to crash safety guidelines in (hot air) ballooning. Sometimes reading the BBC feels like playing charades with Yoda...

Stay tuned for further special report: BBC noun club plot giant success. (Like the ambiguity in that one!?)